12 January - 20 June 2016

Food safety

18 June 14

UK Food Safety Week focuses on campylobacter

It's Food Safety Week, and the FSA has produced plenty of resources supporting this year's theme: don't wash raw chicken.

The latest numbers suggest that 44% of people wash raw chicken before cooking it, which can spread the dangerous campylobacter bacteria and lead to cross-contamination. Awareness of campylobacter is low, with only 28% of people having heard of the bacteria, yet it is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK and can have severe effects.

More information on the campaign, an infographic and video can be found here.

Antibiotic resistant bacteria found in food

In the upcoming issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, researchers from the University of Saskatchewan report on the first recorded detection in food of an enzyme that confers antibiotic resistance. The enzyme (VIM-2 carbapenemase) was produced by an common environmental organism that was present in the food, and this capability is worrying. This is because carbapenemases have a severely detrimental effect on the efficacy of carbapenems, which are 'last-resort' antibiotics.

The carbapenemase-producing organism (a Pseudomonas fluorescens-like bacterium )was found in a squid in Canada, as part of a pilot study examining purchased food for drug-resistance. It was the first such organism found in a foodstuff in the USA/Canada, and its detection highlights the need for close monitoring of the situation in case resistance spreads.

Whilst it would not be harmful for an otherwise healthy person to eat food containing the bacterium - as cooking at the appropriate temperature would kill it - there are other risks. If the bacterium enters a person's body, either through cross-contamination or if food has not been sufficiently cooked, the carbapenemase enzyme can be shared with other bacteria present, making them antibiotic-resistant also. Bacteria such as E.coli becoming resistant could be extremely dangerous, especially to the immuno-compromised. [Washington Post]

Cleaning according to GMP prevents carry-over of meat species during mincing

2013's horsemeat scandal led to a lack of consumer confidence in the supply chain and concern over undeclared meat species in products. As a result, there is currently high interest within the food industry in understanding the potential for contamination of processed meat products with undeclared species during production. As little information on this topic was already available in the literature, and as part of evidence gathering for setting thresholds for such contamination, the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs commissioned a study, the results of which have now been released.

As food manufacturers are not legally obliged to clean equipment in between different red meat species being minced on the same line, the project sought to determine typical levels of carry-over when no cleaning is carried out. Also within its scope was to what extent carry-over of meat species occurs if cleaning is conducted in line with Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP).

Hearteningly, the authors found that in an initial pilot plant trial and in commercial plant replication, both deep chemical cleaning and high pressure water cleaning led to less than 0.1% weight for weight carry-over of raw pork into raw beef. When no cleaning was undertaken between different species on the line, there was, as expected, carry-over varying from 0.65% in the pilot plant trial to 5.6% in commercial plants.

It is anticipated that the findings of the study will now be used to help determine whether cases of meat product adulteration with undeclared species are due to adventitious carry-over from production, or deliberate fraud. As the project showed the possibility of <0.1% carry-over when cleaning according to GMP is conducted (at least when considering the carry-over of pork into beef), the authors noted that there should be no expectation of adventitious contamination.

The outcome of these results is that the FSA Board has agreed on a level of 1% undeclared meat species in processed meat as the threshold over which reporting and response is required according to the currently established procedure. The appropriate action when testing detects undeclared species at below 1% is still under discussion between the FSA, local authorities and the food industry. [FSA]

Hospital blood poisoning cases linked to contamination in intravenous feed product

There has been widespread press coverage of 18 confirmed and four possible cases of blood poisoning in babies on hospital wards. A joint investigation by Public Health England (PHE) and the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has linked the incidents to a feed product contaminated with Bacillus cereus.

The affected product was a nutrition drip (called Total Parental Nutrition, or TPN, and produced by ITH Pharma) that is given intravenously. It appears that contamination occurred during one day of production, affecting batches of the product which were then distributed to over 20 hospitals. Babies in at least nine of the hospitals contracted septicaemia, and there have been two deaths.

The contaminated product has been recalled and is no longer in circulation. There have been no new infections identified since 2nd June, although PHE/MHRA note that as the investigation continues, additional cases may be identified that were not originally linked to the contamination. In a press statement, Gerald Heddell of the MHRA said, "we believe this is an isolated incident and the appropriate immediate action has been taken at ITH Pharma's facility to avoid a reoccurrence. Therefore we are allowing this critical product to be supplied to patients while our investigation proceeds. At this stage, we believe the facility is operating in accordance with Good Manufacturing Practice guidelines but further inspections will be made as part of our ongoing investigation."

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